Final Bocchino/Oberlander debate draws contrasts

In their final debate, from left, Democrat Jill Oberlander and Republican Mike Bocchino looked for those elusive swing voters –Ken Borsuk photo.

In their final debate, from left, Democrat Jill Oberlander and Republican Mike Bocchino looked for those elusive swing voters –Ken Borsuk photo.

In their last scheduled debate showdown, the two candidates for the 150th District seat in the Connecticut General Assembly drew sharp contrasts with each other as they looked for key undecided votes.

The 150th seat is an open one, and the makeup of the district potentially makes it one of the most competitive in Greenwich, which has been completely dominated by Republicans in the legislature for more than a century. But with a registered voter breakdown of close to one-third Republican, one-third Democrat and one third unaffiliated, it could be a possible tight race come Election Day. To that end neither Republican Mike Bocchino nor Democrat Jill Oberlander held back during their debate Oct. 15 before the Old Greenwich Association.

The two candidates debated for more than an hour over 10 questions submitted by the association after consultation with the community, and the sharpest contrast came into view over a more basic theme: How is Connecticut doing?

For Mr. Bocchino, the longtime head of the Byram Neighborhood Association and former president of the New Lebanon School PTA, the answer was not a positive one, as he said the state is “taxing and spending our way to economic ruin.”

“To be kind, the economy is not doing so well,” Mr. Bocchino said. “To be factual, the economy is horrific. According to Forbes Magazine, we know that during the past two decades 300,000 more Connecticut residents have moved out of the state than have moved in. For the past two years we’ve shown 1% in economic growth. Barron’s also considers Connecticut to be in the worst financial shape, more than any other state, and then there was a report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis that said Connecticut was last in economic growth last year. I cannot understand how some think we’re moving in the right direction. … I don’t believe we are sustaining our economy. I don’t think we are sustaining our job growth. We’re driving jobs, actually, out of Connecticut.”

Ms. Oberlander, an attorney and a former member of the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting, had a rosier picture in mind and said more had to and would be done to support small businesses and improve the economy.

“Clearly Connecticut is doing better than it had been,” Ms. Oberlander said. “One of the things that I have learned when I was out talking to residents and businesses was that people here who were hit by the recession six years ago were hit hard. But we are coming back. The last four years we’ve seen declining unemployment. We’ve seen an increase in private sector job growth. We’ve seen programs put into place to create jobs and to retain jobs. We are recruiting companies here and we have not cut our funding for education. We are working to improve the business climate by investing in our educational network so that we will have skilled workers and provide opportunity for our students.”

With Greenwich not having sent a Democrat to Hartford, where the party enjoys a majority, since the presidency of William Howard Taft, Ms. Oberlander returned to a theme throughout the debate. She said that as a member of the Democratic majority in the legislature she would have a seat at the table where all the decisions are being made, and she pressed Mr. Bocchino as to what he would do differently than all the Republicans who have preceded him.

“If we send a fiscally responsible Democrat to Hartford, we will have the opportunity to speak in the majority caucus where all of the legislation moves forward,” Ms. Oberlander said. “We won’t just be sitting here two years from now saying the same depressing facts, which I do dispute. I’m going to speak up for our small businesses. I’m going to continue the programs that keep them in operation and I’m going to look to expand programs that provide them with start-up and working capital.”

Mr. Bocchino responded to Ms. Oberlander’s claim that his take was “depressing” by saying that what he cited was factual. He said his experience working with the PTA and the neighborhood association had shown him the value of reaching across the aisle and coming together on decisions that benefit the people, something he pledged he would do with his Republican colleagues in the Greenwich delegation if elected.

“I don’t feel that adding to a super majority, whether it’s Republican or Democrat, is the answer,” Mr. Bocchino said. “Democracy is having two balanced approaches in government. That’s not what we’re looking at right now. If we have 60 people rowing in the wrong direction, we’re not going to send another person to continue to row in the wrong direction. We’re going to stand up and say we need someone out there who is going to hold people accountable for their decisions.”

Upon being asked repeatedly by Ms. Oberlander what he would do, Mr. Bocchino finally said that he and his colleagues were going to “change the way they think” in Hartford toward more fiscally responsible policies.

There were areas of agreement in the debate as both candidates expressed a strong opposition to any attempt to bring in border tolls to Connecticut, saying not only would it be an additional tax on residents but it would have a real impact on Greenwich as drivers would go off the highway and travel through the town’s neighborhoods, particularly Byram, to avoid the tolls. They also said they did not want to see any more money taken from the state’s Special Transportation Fund to be used in the general budget because that money was needed to pay for improvements in transportation infrastructure in Connecticut. Both also agreed that they wanted funding for universal pre-K and that they did not want to see the state’s tough gun laws that were enacted after Sandy Hook reduced or repealed.

More local issues were also discussed, such as Binney Pond, which both agreed was in need of attention. Mr. Bocchino vowed to “maintain this treasure” and keep it clean for future generations. He called the issue there a man-made problem but said continual dredging was a “Band-Aid approach” and that more had to be done to find the source of the problem. He stressed there had to be community involvement in the solution, too.

“We need to make sure we’re looking at all the intricate issues that revolve around Binney Pond,” Mr. Bocchino said. “We really need to have a thorough evaluation of the drainage system. We need to see where the runoff is coming from. It may force us to strategically place catch basins in locations that we designate where there is runoff coming from. … The catch basins will stop the sediment. It’ll stop the debris from ever entering the pond in the first place. That, to me, is innovative thinking that attacks the problem at the source, and that, to me, creates an environmentally sound solution.”

Ms. Oberlander said putting in catch basins could be accomplished on the town level and the question had to be what they, as state representatives, could do about it. Calling it a complicated problem, Ms. Oberlander said ongoing studies were already showing this would require inter-community cooperation between Greenwich and Stamford.

“We need to come up with a solution that we can implement that is affordable and is allocated,” Ms. Oberlander said. “That is going to require probably collaboration and negotiation. That is where personal contact as your state representative to make sure we’re all working together on the same page is so important. That is what I will bring to the table. What the town will decide it wants to do, I will do my best to locate any available state funding and do my best to make sure that any project [for which] we would otherwise qualify, I will advocate for. That is what has been missing on our town’s behalf. We need to take a very active role in advocating for every cent we can get in otherwise available state funding for our environmental projects. That’s for Binney Pond. That’s for the Long Island Sound. That’s for hazard remediation. There are funds available and we need to make sure we’re getting our fair share.”

Ms. Oberlander presented herself in the debate as a different kind of Democrat, saying she was not particularly active in political party business and had even worked for New York City Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, with whom she had worked at the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), during his unsuccessful 2013 campaign. During the debate she even presented several criticisms she had with Gov. Dannel Malloy, who is locked in a tight re-election battle, while Mr. Bocchino said he had no disagreements he wanted to voice with Republican challenger Tom Foley.

“I’m tired of the standard partisan rhetoric,” Ms. Oberlander said. “I’m for substance over sound bites. Sound bites don’t solve problems. Sometimes they can misrepresent or mislead. You have my promise that I will work very hard every day to get the facts, understand the context and communicate candidly.”

Ms. Oberlander urged people to “vote for the issues and not for the party,” while Mr. Bocchino, enjoying the Republican majority in town, told the voters to look at his record in working for the community through volunteer service and said he would work with people of any party to get the job done, noting that he bucked his own party last year to endorse Democratic Selectman Drew Marzullo.

“I don’t care what party you hold your allegiance with,” Mr. Bocchino said. “If you’re a good person and can look in the eye and be honest with me I will do the exact same to you, and that’s what I’ll bring to Hartford — honesty, accountability and the determination to do the best job for the people of this town.”

[email protected]

By participating in the comments section of this site you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and User Agreement

© Hersam Acorn. All rights reserved. The Greenwich Post, 10 Corbin Drive, Floor 3, Darien, CT 06820

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress